July 13, 2024

Strike at Air Canada Disrupts Travel

OTTAWA — Air travelers in Canada faced disruptions after Air Canada’s customer service and ticket agents went on strike early Tuesday morning.

Before the walkout the airline said it planned to offer regular service by using managers in place of the 3,800 striking workers who are members of the Canadian Auto Workers union. The airline also hopes to steer passengers toward online check-in services as well as electronic kiosks at airports.

But a notice to passengers posted before the strike began made it clear that it would not be travel as usual. The airline warned that check-in lines would “be longer than usual with limited available personnel” and it recommended that travelers avoid bringing checked luggage.

Air Canada and WestJet, a low-cost carrier based in Alberta, are the only two airlines offering flights throughout Canada. Further adding to the problems a prolonged strike may create, Air Canada is the only Canadian carrier with service beyond North America and the Caribbean.

The strike is the first walkout at the airline, which was owned by the government of Canada until 1987, in a decade. While neither side discussed what specific issues remained unresolved as the strike began, proposed pension changes were a major source of contention.

Air Canada’s pension plan is underfunded by about 2.1 billion Canadian dollars and pension funding issues caused it to seek creditor protection between 2003 and 2004.

The Canadian Auto Workers said last week that the airline was proposing to reduce pension benefits to current pension plan members by 40 percent. As well, the union said Air Canada wanted to introduce a separate, less generous plan for all employees hired in the future.

Ken Lewenza, the union’s president, also told The Canadian Press, a news agency, on Monday that wage improvements were also a requirement for a settlement.

The strike by the customer relations staff may signal only the beginning of a prolonged period of labor strife for Air Canada, which has about 26,000 employees. The airline’s pilots rejected a proposed contract with the airline last month. The union representing Air Canada’s 6,800 flight attendants asked the federal government to appoint a conciliator in its contract talks. Contract negotiations are also under way with baggage handlers and mechanics.

Adding to the tension between unions and Air Canada was a financial announcement in April showing that total compensation for Calin Rovinescu, the company’s chief executive, was 4.5 million Canadian dollars last year, up from 2.6 million Canadian dollars in 2009.

The airline has noted that Mr. Rovinescu was only with the company for nine months in 2009 and attributed the remainder of the difference to performance payments related to the airline’s return to profitability last year.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=cf25dfd6b2f64b1eceee3dddc04e4dc6

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